Steve Nash had 14 points and 11 assists, then sat out the final quarter Friday night while the Suns completed a 117-88 rout of the Timberwolves.
Next up is a home game against Dallas, followed by road contests next week against Memphis, San Antonio and Houston.
“I’m encouraged by the way we’re playing,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said. “The ball is moving pretty nicely, and our defense is getting pretty solid and I just think overall this is a pretty good basketball team. We’re getting better, and I expect us to finish up strong.”
Nash shot 5-of-6, including 3-of-3 on 3-pointers and passed Muggsy Bogues for 15th on the NBA career assist list. Nash, who began the season ranked 29th, has 6,732 to Bogues’ 6,726.
“Perfect,” Stoudemire said. “Job well done tonight. Myself playing 27 minutes was perfect for me. We have a big game Sunday, so we get a chance to really get a lot of rest and get ready.”
With six games to play, Phoenix still trails the first-place Los Angeles Lakers by a game in the Pacific Division, and the Lakers have the tiebreaker. The Suns and Houston Rockets, at 51-25, are tied for the fourth-best record in the West.
Al Jefferson scored 20 on 11-of-26 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who fell to an NBA-worst 5-32 on the road. The Timberwolves shot 38 percent.
“We had good intensity defensively and sustained it,” Nash said. “So much of our success is just being tuned in and active and aggressive defensively and being on the same page.”
The Suns, extending their home winning streak to a season-best seven games, shot out to a 23-point lead in the first quarter, and the Timberwolves never got closer than 13 after that.
Phoenix shot 57 percent overall, 9-for-17 from 3-point range.
Shaquille O’Neal played just 22 minutes but had 11 rebounds. The Suns, dominated by Minnesota on the boards in their first three meetings, outrebounded the Timberwolves 52-39.
“He’s a presence, there’s no question about it,” Minnesota coach Randy Wittman said after his first look at O’Neal with the Suns. “It looked to me like we were double-clutching shots. He’s playing well right now for them. His line doesn’t show what he does in clogging the paint defensively. They’re better defensively, no question about it.”
Any combination of two Suns wins or Golden State losses will give Phoenix its 18th playoff berth in the last 20 seasons.
The Suns used a 14-0 run to go up 33-12 on Stoudemire’s two free throws with 2:10 left in the first. The outburst reached 17-1 on two more free throws by Stoudemire to make it 36-13. Phoenix led 36-15 after one, its biggest cushion after the first quarter all season.
Minnesota cut the lead to 50-36 after Kirk Snyder’s layup with 4:34 left in the half, but Phoenix outscored the Timberwolves 12-7 the rest of the half to lead 62-41 at the break.
Nash had 14 points and eight assists in the first half. He made all five of his shots, three of them 3-pointers.
The Timberwolves scored the first six of the second half to cut the lead to 62-49, but Stoudemire scored seven, capped by a three-point play that included a thunderous dunk, in a 9-2 run that boosted the lead to 71-51.
“We got it to 13 and had four straight possessions to knock it to 11 or 10,” Wittman said. “We got stops at the other end, and we just had horrible possessions.”
Three jumpers by Bell, the last two of them 3s, put Phoenix ahead 84-62 with 2:12 to go in the third.
The Suns and Timberwolves split their season series 2-2. … Minnesota’s 15 points were the fewest against the Suns in a first quarter this season. … Jefferson had averaged 32.7 points and 16.3 rebounds in the three previous meetings with Phoenix.